Vitarka vicara ananda asmita (rupa) anugamat samprajnatah
Distinguished cognitive absorption on an object is of four kinds: (1) gross observation – Vitarka; (2) subtle reflection – Vicara; (3) pure joy or bliss – Ananda; (4) I-ness – Asmita.
In this verse, Patanjali discusses the various types of absorption on an object (Samadhi). This arises after the Sadhaka follows abhyasa and vairagya, and ceases to identify with the fluctuations arising within the consciousness.
Vitarka means focusing on a physical object, or a gross object. This can be practiced by concentration on any material object and analyzing its nature. For example, we can focus on the blaze of the candle, think about its shape, its color, its movement, its intensity, its temperature, and etc.. From such observations and analyzes, we understand the nature of an object and gain the intellectual knowledge.
Vicara is the next step, it means achieving reflective Samadhi by focusing on subtle objects. These objects are intangible; they do not take physical forms. For example, light, sound, smell, love, hatred, and etc.. In reflective Samadhi, we are involved in a much more subtle and deeper activity. We have to drop the gross form and understand the true meaning behind it. When we meet someone after a long time, try not to look at his facial expressions, simply meditate on his presence, his energy. In this way, all his past experiences can be revealed to us without our asking. It can be achieved only after the mastery of non-attachment.
The third step is ananda, which means pure joy or bliss. In this state, the Sadhaka is beyond the gross form and subtle impressions of the object. Once the gross and true meanings are understood, bliss arises because for the first time we understand “freedom”. Practice on Samadhi on a certain object, spontaneous happiness is experienced once we are free from the physical and subtle concentration. It is a Samadhi on bliss itself, beyond all abstractions.
Asmita, I-ness, is the last step, which means pure subjectivity. Samadhi on I-ness is different from egoism, because we do not relate it with notions like “I am good” or “I am bad”. Instead, we realize “I am” – I am the pure observer. In daily life, we observe our body, our thoughts, and eventually, we realize that we are not the body or the thoughts, but the observer of all these. From this step, we gain the discriminative knowledge on the real and unreal, reach the high consciousness – liberation.